Al Hager’s pale yellow 1952 MG TD is as much a part of his character as the jaunty wool cap and mile-wide grin he wore when he drove it for the last time on March 7.
Hager fell in love with MGs while attending the University of Edinburgh in the early 1950s. He became the senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village in 1955, and a couple of years later parishioner Bob Grimes found this MG for Hager.
For nearly four decades, this saucy little two seater has been a part of the family. Hager, his wife, Dot, and sons Jim and Steve came of age with this car. “All of us would pile into the MG: Steve and Dixie the boxer dog behind the front seat, Jim on a pillow atop the emergency brake while Dot and I occupied the seats,” Hager said. Dot said she often loaded up the boys and took them to the art gallery.
The four of them cruising through a budding Prairie Village in their MG typified the innocence and optimism of the late 1950s. The neighborhood around 75th Street and Nall Avenue was bustling with young people, and Hager’s church blossomed. He was the pastor there for 26 years. Since 1957, this perky little two-seater has been intertwined with his family’s history almost like a person.
Hager’s sons grew up loving MGs. They helped their dad work on the MG, and the whole family belonged to the MG T-Series Club. When Steve went to Baker University, Hager promised him an MG TD if he kept his grades “top notch.” Steve came home in April 1971. Eager to see his car, he looked into the garage and found a frame, an engine, four wheels and more than 40 boxes of parts.
“We went to work,” Steve said, and three years later, he had a restored 1953 MG TD. “Steve spent his money on the car instead of pop and girls,” Hager said.
Jim Hager bought his 1954 MG TF when he was a student at Baker University. He and his grandfather pulled it home from California behind a 1955 Ford Thunderbird. Jim’s interest in old cars is not limited to the MG. He also has a 1955 Austin-Healey and a 1953 Porsche.
After all these years, the Hagers are selling their beloved MG to a buyer from Vienna, Austria, because they are planning to move into a retirement community.
On a recent Sunday, the family gathered to photograph their cars together for the last time. Steve’s 30-year-old restoration wouldn’t start so it was rolled out of the garage by hand.
For nearly two hours, the Hagers grinned and laughed and nudged one another. Tops were folded, chrome wiped off and hats put on. Cameras snapped constantly as family members recorded the occasion.
As the afternoon shadows lengthened, the stories were told and retold. After the group dispersed, Hager drove his little yellow MG across town and handed the keys to the person who is shipping it overseas. “It came from overseas,” he said, “and now it’s going back.”
For the Hagers, parting with their car is almost like losing a loved one. The memories it has given them will always be larger than life. The body may be gone, but its spirit lives on forever.
The one-and-only Jaguar XJ13 is a race car that never raced and now sits in the Jaguar Heritage Motor Center in Gaydon, England. Thanks to technology and a handful of dedicated craftsmen on multiple continents, several replicas have been created so it is possible on rare occasions to see one in person and get a feel for the original car.
A little history. Jaguar won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times between 1951 and 1957 with its C-Type and D-Type racers. The XJ13 was intended to be the car with which Jaguar would return to Le Mans. The project began in 1964, the first year a 5.0-liter, 60-degree V-12 engine burst to life at Jaguar. Malcolm Sayer, an aerodynamicist, designed the aluminum body using techniques from the aircraft industry where he had worked for the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
Construction on the car began in 1965, and the first prototype was running by March of 1966 but getting the car on track was not a priority, especially after Jaguar merged with BMC, the British Motor Corporation. Ironically, 1966 was the year that Ford scored its first win at Le Mans with the GT40 and its huge 7.0-liter V-8. Ford went on to win in 1967, 1968 and 1969, and the Jaguar XJ13 seemed out of date.
On Jan. 21, 1971, the XJ13 was taken to a track for filming. Legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis flipped the car in a heavy crash because of a damaged tire. Dewis was not hurt but the car was a near write-off. After several years, Jaguar repaired the original but it lives in the museum.
One not-quite-completed replica was in Kansas City last year so Dick Kitzmiller of Scarab Motorsports, Prairie Village, and Nate Boyer at Kultured Custom Restorations in Gardner, could finish its construction. It was one of two cars built by Digby Cooke and Dennis Bedford, founder of DBR Sports Cars in Australia. Cooke’s car was completed but the second car was not. Ash Marshall, the first Australian drag racer to break 200 miles per hour but now living in California, bought the incomplete car along with Marc Shaw, also of California. Shaw sent the car to Kitzmiller.
This slinky, slippery mid-engined gem, naturally painted British Racing Green, is powered by a V-12 engine whose exhaust and intake systems glitter like jewelry under the huge rear window. The exhaust sounds like ripping canvas.
When the car arrived from California “It was basically an unfinished roller,” Kitzmiller said. Roller means a rolling chassis. The body was fiberglass. Kitzmiller oversaw the creation of a custom interior, custom exhaust (with pipes that are as beautiful as an organ), new seats, updated gauges, custom door latches, new side curtains and a gorgeous paint job.
“When we were done, I think it represented the car well for what it was,” Kitzmiller said. “It was built to the standard of the time when it was created.” The car was displayed at last year’s Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute. It is now in the hands of a new owner somewhere out east.
Kelly Rotert’s replica of a 1963 Corvette Grand Sport is an astonishing piece of work, especially when you consider that he started with nothing more than the car’s VIN plate, title and firewall.
Rotert, of Stilwell, said he learned to do mechanical and body work when he was a student at the technical high school in Des Moines. Since then he has probably built 50 cars, including various hotrods, and this is his 15th Corvette. “If I think it’s cool, that’s what I build.”
Building cars is his after-work therapy, and he has the support of his wife, Pam, who he met in high school. “When I found out her favorite car was a 1967 Pontiac Firebird 400 with a hood tachometer, I was pretty sure I was in love,” he said.
Starting with nothing more than a firewall was quite a challenge, but that was necessary for Rotert’s car to retain its 1963 title. The original five 1963 Grand Sports (three coupes and two roadsters) were built by Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov and his staff to challenge European sports racers. They had lightweight aluminum frames, thin fiberglass body panels and magnesium wheels. The engines were 377-cubic-inch V-8s that delivered 485 horsepower. General Motors canceled all factory racing efforts in early 1963 and the cars were raced a few times by privateers. Today those cars, worth perhaps $6 million to $8 million, are some of the most valuable and historic of all Corvette models.
Rotert’s car has an aftermarket tube frame similar to the one on the real Grand Sport. The 1992 Corvette suspension parts are nearly identical to that of the original race car. His car’s engine is a Chevy LS6, 350-cubic-inch V-8 that delivers 485 horsepower, same as the original. The hood, rear section and roll bar are reproduction Grand Sport pieces.
Assembling everything and doing all of the bodywork took Rotert about 2,500 hours. “There’s nothing you can’t make if you have the patience,” he said.
He made the custom racing windscreen by sandwiching a piece of Plexiglas between two stock windshields and heating them until the Plexiglas was formed correctly.
Rotert’s mechanical work is excellent and his body and paint work are outstanding. A good example of his attention to detail is the accuracy of the pearl white racing paint stripe that runs the length of the car. He spent 12 hours in his garage laying out the stripes with two lasers.
The result is a show-quality car that has won its class several times in the World of Wheels auto show despite have been driven about 2,500 miles since it was finished in 2009.
When cinematographer David Gilmore talks about the 1969 TVR Tuscan coupe that he and his wife, Meg, bought a few months ago, he beams as if he has discovered buried treasure. In some ways he has because his Tuscan is one of only eight thought to exist in the U.S.
Gilmore, of Leawood, has been shooting a documentary about TVRs and that eventually led him to this car. He expects his video to be released in the spring.
The 2100-pound TVR Tuscan is powered by a 289-cubic-inch high-performance Cobra Ford V-8 and it can hit 60 miles per hour in less than 5 seconds and has a top speed of 165 mph.
Gilmore’s Tuscan V-8 SE, serial number MAL008, was the only one to have a Ford automatic transmission. Harvey Onore of Tom’s River, N.J., bought it off of the floor of the 1969 New York Auto Show and drag raced it successfully for several years. It later passed through three other owners. The original engine was enlarged and modified. Art Becker of Manahawkin, N.J., completed the car’s restoration seven years ago. It now has a correct 289-cubic-inch engine. The transmission is a four-speed manual even though the car originally had an automatic. The paint is Dodge Viper blue.
TVR was a British company founded in 1949 by Trevor Wilkinson. In 1955, Ray Saidel of New Hampshire asked Wilkinson to build a car with an independent suspension and a glass-reinforced plastic body. Called the TVR Grantura, it was shown at the New York Auto Show in 1957.
The TVR Griffith came into being in the early 1960s because of Jack Griffith, a Ford dealer in Syosset, NY. Griffith stored Shelby AC Cobras after they arrived from England until they were shipped to Shelby’s California shop where the engines were installed. He decided to build a Cobra killer of his own by dropping a Ford V-8 and transmission into the TVR Grantura. The result was the TVR Griffith.
The Griffith had a reputation for overheating but it was fast and won races on the track and at the drag strip. A dock strike ended Griffith’s dream because bodies could no longer be imported for modification.
In 1967, TVR importer Jerry Sagerman revived the Griffith as the Tuscan V-8 with a modified fiberglass body and improvements to overcome the Griffith’s poor reputation. This Tuscan sold in limited numbers since the base price made it more expensive than a new Jaguar XKE roadster.
Approximately 50 V-8 Tuscans were built between 1967-1970. The Gilmores’ car is one of the last 289-equipped cars and one of only 21 of the long-wheelbase MAL series cars. It will be shown at the ninth annual Art of the Car Concours next June 28 at the Kansas City Art Institute.
The first 24 Hours of Le Mans was held in 1923, and it has been run 76 times since. The early races were held on public roads, but much of today’s track is a purpose-built facility, although public roads are still used in some sections.
Entrants compete in four categories, and the winner is the car that covers the most laps of the 8.47-mile circuit between 3 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. The fastest cars average nearly 124 miles per hour and hit 214 mph or more on the long Mulsanne straight. Three drivers per car take turns of varying length. Each car covers between 11 and 13 laps before needing to refuel.
For the 200,000 spectators, LeMans is a pilgrimage and the Circuit de 24 Heures is the shrine that rivals the Indy 500 and the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. Spectators bunch six deep on a large berm at midnight to glimpse cars as they burst out of the night, scream through the Porsche Curve and vanish into the darkness once again.
Le Mans also means sipping champagne at 9 a.m. and eating Grand Marnier crepes. Only at this event will you see a small pop-up camper pitched next to a late-1960s Ferrari Dino parked in an infield lot.
On Friday evening before the race, the drivers of each car are chauffeured in antique cars past the Cathedral of St. Julien du Mans, built in the 11th century, and through the old town center.
A lighted Ferris wheel and bungee jumping give a carnival atmosphere to the west side of the main grandstand.
From the early 1970s until the death of Enzo Ferrari in 1988, Brenda Vernor had a unique and insider’s role in Ferrari’s Formula One racing program. British born, Vernor was an English translator for Enzo and the only woman among 199 men.
How did a woman from Surrey, England, end up working for Ferrari? “I was the only girl in a family with three boys and had to fend for myself,” she said.
“When I left England for Italy in 1962, my brothers didn’t think I would stick it out, but I did.” She was very close to her father Frank. “I was the apple of his eye.”
I talked with her last week while she was in Kansas City visiting her good friend, noted automotive historian, author and Ferrari expert, Michael T. Lynch. She was in the States for her annual trip to attend the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August.
In the early 1970s Vernor was teaching English in Modena, near Maranello, home of Ferrari. One of her students was Piero Lardi Ferrari, Enzo’s son. He was about 16.
One day Enzo called. “I had just a taken my Labrador dogs for a walk, and they made me angry. The phone was ringing as I walked in the door. I answered the phone, ‘Yes. Pronto.’ I heard a voice on the other end say, ‘Are you angry? This is Enzo Ferrari. How about coming to work for me?’”
They met the next day at 3 p.m. at the Pista di Fiorano, Ferrari’s private test track. “He put me on a three-month trial.”
“He never spoke English, just French. So I used to do all of his translations for the Formula One teams. They sent Telexes in those days.”
But Vernor’s role with the team was far greater than a translator. She looked after the drivers, handled their fan mail, found housing and even washed their driving uniforms.
They often called her “zia,” or aunt. I can imagine that her role with the Formula One team was more akin to being the housemother of a college fraternity.
“They were all good boys,” she said with a smile.
When French driver Rene Arnoux joined Ferrari’s Formula One team in 1983 she said he acquired the nickname of “Coccolino” because of the highly perfumed Coccolino brand fabric softener she used to wash his uniform.
“Late at night I would go visit the mechanics,” she said. “I would bring them cakes that I baked and some wine. I would sit with them as they worked late into the night on the Formula One cars, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m. Then early the next day I would be back in the office.”
“I was working in the press office,” she said, “and I remember the first time I saw the French driver Didier Pironi. He was ‘ciccio bello,’ most handsome.”
She worked with famous drivers such as the late Gilles Villeneuve, Jody Scheckter, Carlos Reutemann, Patrick Tambay, Clay Regazzoni, Stefan Johansson and Michele Alboreto. She still stays in touch with some.
Speaking of Villeneuve, she said, “I’ve never driven a Ferrari, but I’ve driven with Villeneuve (punctuated with a chuckle). That was something, too. Nut case. When I got out of the car my hair was standing on end.” Villenueve was killed at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982.
“I’ve driven with the old man (Enzo), in a 330GTC. I was in a restaurant with a client who had to go home suddenly, so I was stuck up there in the mountains. The old man was there eating, so I said ‘Ingegnere, could you please take me home. (Enzo was often called Ingegnere, or engineer, in his later years). Down the hill we went. He was a good driver, but he liked to go fast.”
“The speed limit in Italy is 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour), but if the police see you speeding in a Ferrari, they pull you over just to get a look at the car. Then they send you on your way. Arrivederci.”
Vernor worked for Enzo until he died on Aug. 14, 1988. She was in Pebble Beach when she learned of his death. It was Aug. 15, her birthday.
“They buried him at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning because he didn’t want any fuss.”
After Enzo’s death she worked for Piero in the commercial department until she retired in 1993.
“Enzo did lots of good things for people, and nobody knew about it. Underneath, he was a softy. He did a lot for his workers. Most of his workers were local people. He gave jobs to the local people, and he understood them because he came from nothing. He knew what it was like not to have anything. If he could help somebody he would.”
“He could get angry, too sometimes. He’d get red in the face, shout and scream, and in 10 minutes, it was finished. Back to normal.”
“He was a lovely guy. I loved him. I was privileged to work with such a man.”
In the early 1950s, sports car road racing was beginning to blossom in America. A few Southern California hot rodders started turning their attention to road racing, but because they didn’t have the money to buys European cars such as Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar, they built their own. Some had fairly simple frames, American V-8 engines and a functional, if sometimes ungainly, body.
In 1952 Dick Troutman and Tom Barnes designed and built a sports-racing car that had a lightweight tube frame and a Ford flathead V-8 with high-compression heads and three carburetors. It weighed 1,854 pounds. A simple but elegant aluminum body wrapped front and rear transverse leaf springs, Halibrand quick-change differential, Ford-Bendix drum brakes and an MG rack and pinion steering box. The transmission was a Ford three-speed with Lincoln Zephyr gears. The Troutman-Barnes Special competed in its first race in 1954.
When Troutman and Barnes formed their own shop in the mid-1950s, they applied what they had learned from their car to the first Scarab racer for Lance Reventlow, wealthy playboy and heir to the Woolworth fortune. Reventlow’s Scarab sports-racing cars had stunning aluminum bodies designed by a young Art Center of Design graduate named Chuck Pelly. Power was from a fuel-injected Chevrolet V-8. On American road courses such as Road America in Wisconsin and Continental Divide Raceway in Colorado, the Scarabs often beat Ferraris, Maseratis and Jaguars in 1958 and 1959. The Scarab’s success led Texan Jim Hall to have Troutman and Barnes build the first Chevrolet-powered Chaparral sports racer. It is because of this lineage that current owner, Mike Sheehan of Hawaii, calls it “Momma.”
Sheehan was 13 years old when he saw the Troutman-Barnes car compete at Dillingham Field in Oahu. Chuck Daigh, a California engineer and racer, drove it. Daigh raced the Troutman-Barnes car more than anyone else and they were often successful. Daigh went on to race Scarabs as well.
“The Troutman car was really neat,” Sheehan said, “and I thought I would like to have one of those when I grow up.” Little did he know how that wish would materialize just a few years later.
After the Oahu race the car was sold to local racer Jimmy Pflueger who kept it in Hawaii. The Ford Y-block engine was removed and sold. In 1959, with a “Scarab” Chevrolet engine installed, Daigh raced the car at Riverside International Raceway in California. It finished sixth.
Sheehan bought the car from Pflueger for $500 in 1963 when he was still a teenager. It had no engine, no transmission and the left rear axle was broken due to overheating. Sheehan remembers taking the car to a Japanese machine shop to get a new axle, and the owner made him wait for three or four hours before he would see him. A new axle was made from the same steel used in samurai swords and it is still in the car.
Sheehan drag-raced the car with a Chevy V-8, but in 1992 he had Dick Troutman restore the car and install a Ford flathead V-8 like the original. It has high-compression Navarro heads, three carburetors and a crossover exhaust system that boosts horsepower by 18 percent. The car has been displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles and at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Sheehan was recently in Kansas City to purchase a continuation Scarab built by Scarab Motorsports of Prairie Village. He brought the Troutman-Barnes car with him, and it will be shown alongside his Scarab at the Art of the Car Concours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 22 at the Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick. Tickets are available in advance at www.artofthecarconcours.com.
It’s amazing what can be created with time, dedication and crafty machine work. Tim Thoele’s 1911 Pierce motorcycle is the perfect example of all of the above.
Thoele, 64 of Kansas City, Kan., bought a Pierce single-cylinder engine in 2005 at a motorcycle swap meet in Davenport, Iowa, and painstakingly built the motorcycle to go around it using photographs, drawings and measurements from an original bike.
“I had it in my head to do this,” he said with his characteristic smile, and seeing the engine for sale was all it took. “This is the last Pierce engine I’ve seen for sale,” he said. The Pierce company also built the Pierce Arrow automobile.
Old motorcycles, and old cars, are nothing new to Thoele. He has several in the process of restoration, and he has been building and selling mufflers for early-1900s bikes for some time. “There aren’t many people involved in the old motorcycle trade,” he said, “and we all pretty much know each other.”
When Thoele dismantled the Pierce engine he found it had damaged bearings, no camshaft and no rocker arms. Surprisingly, he was able to source new bearings because the old ones still had part numbers.
There was no source for a camshaft or rocker arms so Thoele’s uncle, Martin Wollenberg, enlarged drawings from a Pierce brochure and machined the parts on a special mill. “He’s a wizard,” Thoele said.
Creating the three large-diameter frame sections from scratch was a big challenge, he said. He chose driveshaft tubing very, very strong. Thoele spent hours heating, hammering and shaping the ends of the main tube so it could be welded to the head tube that supports the front fork. He bought the front fork assembly from Joe Turner in Ohio. He shaped smaller frame pieces by filling metal tubing with sand, heating it and bending it to the proper shape.
The engine displaces about 600cc and it produces just five horsepower. The total-loss oil system passes oil from a tank into the engine’s crankcase. What isn’t burned goes out on the ground.
Thoele made almost all of the bike’s small parts with a lathe and milling machine, one part at a time. One day, while looking at all of the parts, he decided it was time to put them together.
“It actually went together pretty quickly,” he said. He finished it about a year ago.
A large leather belt drives the rear wheel that has a coaster brake similar to that of a bicycle. Thoele said it took him three years to find the proper rear wheel hub.
Thoele has ridden his bike on short jaunts several times. “I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” he said. Now it’s on the next project.
MONTGOMERY, Texas — Like miniature sculptures, mascots sit atop the radiators and hoods of classic cars as if they were posing in an art gallery. While some are easily recognizable, I found several new ones at the Concours d’Elegance of Texas, held May 5 at La Torretta Lake Resort in this northern Houston suburb.
This is the second year for the event at the recently renovated resort on the shores of Lake Conroe, and about 100 cars were displayed on one of the resort fairways.
According to Motoring Mascots of the World by William C. Williams, the first mascot was a St. Christopher statuette placed on the dash of an 1896 Daimler by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. After that, the mascot idea caught fire. Examples could be purchased in jewelry shops and accessory stores.
One of the most interesting mascots was found on a 1928 Moon Diana two-door sedan. The Moon Motor Company was based in St. Louis. The Diana was produced by a wholly owned subsidiary, Diana Motors Company, between 1925 and 1928. The engine was a 72-horsepower, eight-cylinder Continental. Hydraulic brakes were standard. The beautiful radiator shell has a cameo-like badge, and this car was topped with woman mascot.
Designers began creating all kinds of figures for radiators. Some mascots were brand-specific, such as the Pierce-Arrow kneeling archer or the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy, but others were used found on a variety of makes. The Goddess of Speed, a forward leaning lady holding a wheel, is one of the most recognizable and often used mascots. Rene Lalique, a French jeweler and designer, created large mascots in crystal.
One of the most popular radiator adornments is the Boyce Motometer that contained a thermometer that the driver could read from inside the vehicle. Knowing the temperature of the water was crucial.
A 1932 Plymouth Sports Roadster had a flying lady wings leaning into the wind, and a stunning 1932 Buick Series 67 sedan sported a Mercury figure perched on the edge of its radiator cap. According to the car’s owner, Charles Nixon of Fort Worth, the Mercury was an option on the Buick.
Over the years, Cadillac’s flying lady has gone through several permutations, each one more streamlined and less distinct. The earlier versions, like the one on a 1941 Series 62 coupe, show a winged lady smiling into the wind, a fairly common theme.